Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Journey with Depression and Anxiety

Hello, beauties. Earlier this week, the world lost the inimitable Robin Williams. To those on the outside, he was known for his over the top humor, heartwarming soul, and kind spirit. On the inside, he spent years battling the demons of addiction and a depression that he ultimately could not overcome. People have wondered what a man with his level of talent and fame could possibly have to be depressed about, as if those things should be enough to stave away the inner turmoil that would lead someone to take their own life. The truth is depression cares not for how much is in your bank account, how big your house is, how many adoring fans you have, or any other marker of success. It strikes without warning and without discrimination.

The tragic death of Robin Williams has ignited a conversation about the realities of depression and how we as a society treat and, in many ways, demonize mental illness. It has also inspired people all over the world to share the stories of their own battles with mental illness. If you’ve followed my blog or my social media, then you may have seen me make mention of my own struggles. I’ve never shared the full story publicly. Not until now. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this post, but in the end I felt that if it helped one person, or if it helped someone feel like they weren’t alone, then it would be worth it. So, here it is. This is my story.

me-at-13
Me at 13. I'd already started having anxiety and suicidal thoughts by this age.
I can barely remember a time without anxiety. By the time I was five or six, I was already starting to experience physical symptoms that were brought on by intense feelings of dread and anxiety. I can remember being bullied on the bus and being physically ill when I’d think of having to face the kids who tormented me. Suicidal ideations didn’t begin until I was 12, and soon after at 15, I began to self-harm. I’d cut and carve to relieve a pain I had no idea how to cope with. I hid it from my friends and family by doing it in places no one could see like my stomach and thighs, and I carried a deep, unrelenting shame over it.

I experienced my first breakdown when I was 16. That was the year I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. On top of that, I contracted mono and spent a semester out of school dealing with my physical and mental health. By the time I returned to school the next year, I was loaded down with meds and seeing a therapist every other week and things finally seemed to be looking up, albeit with strange lapses in memory (I still have parts of my 15th and 16th years that I don‘t remember). But that wouldn’t be the end of my journey.

I went off to college the summer I turned 19. I decided that I wanted to go to a school a couple of hours from home, but by the end of the first semester I was beginning to struggle and transferred to a college close to home. At first, things settled, but early 2008 saw a return of old patterns. Soon I was self harming again and my mental health was spiraling downward, but I did my best to hide as much of the pain that I was experiencing as possible. Then, my grandfather died on New Year’s Eve. After that, it was like a rock sinking to the bottom of a well.

me-in-nyc-christmas-2008
Me in NYC over Christmas 2008. Mere weeks before my grandfather passed and my second breakdown.
Spring semester of 2009 was the worst of my college career. I tried to escape my grief by sleeping all day, leaving my bed only to grab a bit of food or use the bathroom. My friends would stop by my room, banging on the door and begging to be let in, but I’d ignore them until they’d inevitably leave. I stopped going to my classes and saw my email inbox fill up with messages letting me know I was failing. I shut my phone off and holed myself up at my then boyfriend’s house not letting anyone know where I was. Not even my own mother. The next time I turned on my phone, I had messages from friends and family begging to know where I was, and when I finally talked to my mother she insisted I come home and get back into therapy.

Again, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and was started back on medication. Unfortunately, it was too late to salvage the school year. Even with my psychiatrist writing the administration asking them to be lenient due to my mental state, I was denied the ability to take incompletes and was failed in all of my classes. Depression and anxiety were not considered reason enough to miss class. Mental health issues were not regarded as something to be taken seriously.

Over the next few months, I gradually started to piece my life back together, and eventually I found myself back on solid ground. In 2010 I met a fantastic man, and in 2012 we were married. We honeymooned at Disney World, we made plans for our future, and everything seemed to be falling right into place. All that was about to change.

me-summer-2013
Last summer after being diagnosed bipolar.
In the spring of 2013, right after our first wedding anniversary, I started having health problems. The maddening search to find out what was wrong led to me experiencing the worst breakdown of my life. I was fearful that I was dying and got to the point where I couldn’t be left alone. I was in a constant state of anxiety and the rollercoaster of emotions led me to being seriously suicidal for the first time since I was a teen. It got so bad that my husband ended up calling a crisis team out to our home in the middle of the night. I can’t even convey how surreal it felt having a counselor and social worker sitting at my dining room table discussing immediate treatment options, including the idea of having me committed to a hospital.

Luckily, we were able to get me in to see a psychiatrist in the next 48 hours, which is what kept me out of the hospital. This time around I had to see the psychiatrist once every three weeks, and I had to see a therapist each week. As before, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, but when I didn’t respond as hoped to my new medications, my psychiatrist started digging further. Soon I had a new diagnosis to go alongside my anxiety. Bipolar. I was stunned and afraid. Depression had been bad enough. What would people think? Would I ever lead a normal life?

With a new regimen of medicines, loads of therapy, and new tools to take into the world, I was able to reclaim my life. Getting back to an even place hasn’t been without it’s casualties. The medical bills wiped out our entire savings. With the frequent need for doctor visits and needing to be monitored as much as possible, we had to give up the apartment we were living in and move in with my mother. Needless to say, the last thing a grown child wants to do is move back in with their parents, especially when they are married. Another lovely effect was that my medication left me with a little parting gift of near 50 extra pounds, but it was a worthy trade off to be healthy again.

me-summer-2014
Me now, and things are definitely looking brighter!
It’s the summer of 2014 now. I’m off medication and no longer needing visits with a therapist. My husband has got a new job and we’re actually looking to buy a house by the end of the year. Things are so different than they were a mere 12 months ago. But the knowledge of what I have lingers in my mind. The likelihood of another episode somewhere down the line is high. Each time I start feeling down, I worry that I’m hopping back on the Bipolar rollercoaster (and let me tell you that it is a shit ride). I can’t say that it doesn’t make me concerned for the future. But at the end of the day, I can only hope for the best.

Throughout my years dealing with mental illness, I’ve had all sorts of nasty things leveraged at me. I’ve been called a waste of space, worthless, weak, and a loser, among other things. I’ve been told that I need to get over it and learn to deal with life like everyone else, and that I should stop being overdramatic. You’d think it was a switch I could just turn off with the way some people talk about it. It shows just how little people understand mental illness, and that there is still an ugly stigma surrounding it.

I’m so lucky right now to have a husband who supports me and loves me no matter what. I have friends who understand what I’m going through and would be there at the drop of a hat without judgment. I’m also so happy to have this blog and all the fantastic people I’ve met because of it. I started this blog as I was coming out of things last year, and it was a large part of what helped me heal. Having something to focus on, to be proud of, to feel like I had a purpose for once, made such a difference. I don’t know where I’d be today without it.

So, that’s my story in a nutshell. Am I nervous about being judged or laughed at? Absolutely. I’m scared that admitting out loud to the world that I have a mental illness might change how people see me. At the same time, if my story can help anyone feel less alone or open to getting help, then there will be a firm positive from it. With a diagnosis, I better know how to care for myself, and am able to create a better life than I surely would have had if I’d never reached out my hand for help. I am alive, and there is nothing I am more thankful for.

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, please call one of the hotlines below:

US & Canada: 1-800-273-TALK
UK: 08457 90 90 90
Australia: 13 11 14

Please know that you are loved and you are never alone. Know that there is always someone there ready to help. Don’t give up. This world would not be the same without you in it. xx

SHARE:

18 comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post. Have seen too many people displaying their ignorance about mental illness in the past couple of days, if this educates just one person you will have done a world of good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So proud of you! I was going to try and be the first comment, but Skye beat me to it. Love you manies!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Reading your story was a lot like reading mine. I managed to cope through college with depression and anxiety (that triggered my Tourrette's), but when I got really sick after college, the search for a diagnosis and treatments led to two breakdowns in 2 years. I ended up having dystonia and Fibromyalgia, but something is still wrong with my heart, so I go in for more testing tomorrow. It's so hard to go through, but like you, if I didn't have family to literally drag me to doctors and set up appointments for me I would still be very sick. In fact, I probably wouldn't be alive.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So glad you shared your story and I do hope that readers who are experiencing depression will get help immediately! I always say that you can be sick in your mind just as you can be sick in your body. Everyone needs to get over the stigma attached to mental illness and stop judging people that deal with a real problem. Kudos to you for realizing that you needed to seek help and so glad to read that things are turning around for you and that your health is improving.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Our stories are quiet similar. I have depression and GAD along with horrid panic attacks. It started when I was in middle school but didn't get bad until the end of my senior year of high school. I had mono that summer and it put me into this place of not wanting to be alive anymore. I went through months of abuse from my Ex and then college started and I slept whenever I wasn't in class and I cried all day. Everyday. For 7 weeks. My teachers would give me these pity looks. I ended up in therapy and on medication. It helped. Then I went through a break up and a new job and finals and a new boyfriend. I ended up in the hospital in the spring for "attempted suicide". It was rough. But with all the support, meds, and therapy, I feel a lot more normal. It's hard to learn to rely on others but people need each other. I am so glad you shared this (you can find my story in the Pages at sincerelyalaska.blogspot.com) and I pray you will continue to feel more YOU everyday. :) You are loved.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I have dysthymia, which was diagnosed my senior year of high school, but, looking back, the signs had been there for many years. It makes me so very upset when people characterize depression and other forms of mental illness as something you can just snap out of, as if anyone with these types of problems doesn't wish they could "just get over it." I am so glad that you felt comfortable sharing and that you are in a good place. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh Megan...You are a beautiful, sensational, honest and kind women! You are a force to be reckoned with. This post brought me to tears! I just love love love you!

    -Hales

    ReplyDelete
  8. So lovely that you could share your story that will help so many others. I know how alone I can feel so knowing others are out there to help feels great. Hate how society views mental illness and how people find it 'weird' x

    ReplyDelete
  9. Loved how open you was in your post. I too used to find ways of releasing my hurt but couldn't bring myself to write it in my current blog post about confidence. I hope you get the time to read mine. Outfittingu.com/blog

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you so much for sharing such an intimate part of yourself with us. I appreciate your honesty....

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a powerful story you carry with you. Amazing post and journey! Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Girl you are SOOO strong! I can't even imagine how you have suffered with anxiety for that many years. But thanks for sharing your story. Your strength and courage is moving! Im also very happy that u have an amazing hubby who loves and supports u so much. Sounds like a great guy! Take care pretty girl!!!!

    www.thesaltlifewife.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  13. This had me choking up, because I can relate so much to what you described. It's such a blessing that you have such supportive people in your life. And I know for sure that this has helped more people that you know, so thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Megan, I am so proud of you for sharing your story. It is crazy to think that a lovely, bubbly girl like yourself could have suffered so much, but I think that you are an inspiration and an asset to the blogging community xxxx

    http://allthingsbeautiful-x.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am quite speechless after reading your story but only in a positive way. I think you are so brave and strong to be able to talk about all of this. I really do hope that this post has helped other people as it is amazingly honest. I wish you the best for your future and even more supportive people in your life. Hopefully society will change some time.
    xx Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  16. Megan, I just discovered your blog and I'm hooked. This post is so brave, and I envy your courage. I have major depressive disorder and had 2 episodes in 2 years after college. I have yet to share my story publicly or even with my in-laws. You look and sound great and I'm happy for you! Very inspired.
    Erica

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's good to write posts like this. I have a condition called PMDD, which is like PMS x 100, and it gives me severe depression right before my period. I've never harmed myself but I think some women who have it do that. I think people need to see mental health as serious and compassion-worthy as physical health. And talking about it with others also creates some accountability for yourself- if you get to that point next time where you are close to a breakdown, hopefully you can reach out to someone.

    ReplyDelete

Blogger Template Created by pipdig